From June 28 to 30, the University of Cambridge hosted the international workshop “Respecting Seeds: An Exploration into Saving Ethics and the Politics of Care in Gardens, Farms and Banks”. Co-convened by Olivia Angé, Professor of Economic Anthropology at the Université libre de Bruxelles and a Wiener-Anspach Alumna, this event received the support of the Foundation.


Caring for seeds has been crucial to the history of plant domestication and the development of agriculture (Curry 2016). In the twentieth century, the valence of conservation has been added to seed care due to fears of biodiversity loss, in part due to the widespread shift to monocultures. While tropes of loss have been used to legitimize genetic material extraction from cultivators’ fields for capitalization in centralized banks (Montenegro 2015), the widespread distribution of a restricted set of improved varieties, along with legal prohibitions on the commercial use of unregistered ones, has reshaped seed-saving practices across the globe, in farms, gardens and banks (Chacko 2019, van Dooren 2009, Chapman 2018). Scholars advocating multispecies ethnography (Nazarea 2005, Tsing et. al. 2016, Hartigan 2017) have offered avenues of attunement which, in this roundtable, we take up to shed light on the contrasting politics of seeds in our era of ecological destruction and conservationist zeal. Donna Haraway has called for the cultivation of ‘respect’ as a crucial interspecies tool of relationality (2008: 164). Respect, she explains, entails reciprocal consideration between subjects able to give responses in interactions. While Haraway’s seminal work focuses on animal response-abilities, her plea echoes tropes and practices ethnographically documented in disparate agricultural contexts (Angé 2018, Battaglia 1990, Miller 2019, Hoover 2017). Aiming to explore the diverse, and conflicting, seed ethics unfolding in the Anthropocene, this roundtable addresses the manifold forms of respect enacted in seed-saving practices. How is vegetal respect articulated within the instrumentalising targets of seed management?

More information is available on the website of the ERC Starting Grant project SeedsValues, led by Olivia Angé.